News - ICIJ exposes offshore's global impact
Drawing from a leaked trove of 2.5 million digital files, ICIJ led what may be the largest cross border journalism collaboration in history.
ICIJ’s investigation opens the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts and nearly 130,000 individuals and agents, exposing hidden dealings of politicians, con artists, and the mega-rich in more than 170 countries. Secrecy for Sale: Inside the Global Offshore Money Maze, ICIJ’s largest investigative reporting project in its 15- year history, is available here.
The stories released today by the ICIJ and its partner outlets around the world are the first installment in an ongoing series. An initial group of stories will run between April 3 and April 15, 2013 with more reporting to follow throughout the year as ICIJ and its partners continue the investigation.
“This investigation lifts the curtain on the offshore system and provides a transparent look into the secret world of tax havens and the individuals and companies that use and benefit from them,” said Gerard Ryle, Director of the ICIJ. “We already knew how secret and inaccessible the offshore industry is, but we were surprised by how vast and far reaching it is. It draws its clients not only from the world’s super-wealthy, but also from everyday professionals from all around the world.”
The files identify the individuals behind the covert companies and private trusts based in the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands, Singapore and other offshore havens. They include American doctors and dentists and middle-class Greek villagers as well as Russia corporate executives, Eastern European and Indonesian billionaires, Wall Street fraudsters, international arms dealers and families and associates of long-time dictators.
Among the investigation’s key findings:
- Government officials and their families and associates in Azerbaijan, Russia, Canada, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, Canada, Mongolia and other countries have embraced the use of covert companies and bank accounts.
- The mega-rich use complex offshore structures to own mansions, yachts, art masterpieces and other assets, gaining tax advantages and anonymity not available to average people.
- Many of the world’s top’s banks – including UBS, Clariden and Deutsche Bank – have aggressively worked to provide their customers with secrecy-cloaked companies in the British Virgin Islands and other offshore hideaways.
- A well-paid industry of accountants, middlemen and other operatives has helped offshore patrons shroud their identities and business interests, providing shelter in many cases to money laundering or other misconduct.
- Ponzi schemers and other large-scale fraudsters routinely use offshore havens to pull off their shell games and move their ill-gotten gains.
While reporting by the ICIJ and its partners shows that many users of offshore are engaged in legitimate transactions, the project team’s investigations raise questions about the lack of transparency, lax law enforcement and illegal practices that are prevalent in the offshore world.
“This investigation was the most extensive in our history. It would not have been possible without the cooperation of our international partners,” said Bill Buzenberg, Executive Director of the Center for Public Integrity. “Because of the magnitude of this cross-border collaboration we are able to provide a window onto the offshore world, an important step toward bringing transparency and accountability to an industry that over the last several years has grown beyond regulation and control.”
The collection of leaked information, totaling more than 260 gigabytes of data, includes corporate files, emails, account ledgers, and other records that show cash transfers, incorporation dates and links between individuals and companies. It is believed to be one of the largest collections of leaked data gathered and analyzed by journalists.
The files illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy to avoid taxes, fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations. The current banking crisis in Cyprus is one example of how the offshore system can impact an entire country’s financial stability.
The ICIJ worked with 86 investigative journalists from 46 countries and used data mining software and old fashioned shoe leather reporting to unveil the previously hidden but thriving world of fraud, tax dodging and political corruption.
To analyze the documents, ICIJ collaborated with journalists from The Guardian and the BBC in the UK, Le Monde in France, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Norddeutscher Rundfunk in Germany, The Washington Post, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and 31 other media partners around the world.
The reporters and editors on the project team thoroughly fact-checked the data and cross-referenced it with other information, including court records, government reports and financial databases. Team members interviewed hundreds of experts, government officials, attorneys, offshore clients and other sources around the world.
Among the countries included in the data are: Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kosovo, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, and Venezuela.